I Can’t Go On…

It’s 4 a.m., I’m sitting in front of this buzzing box trying to write another column, trying to meet another […]

It’s 4 a.m., I’m sitting in front of this buzzing box trying to write another column, trying to meet another deadline (appropriate name), trying to wring something clever or funny or inspirational or wise out of my empty heart and put it on this screaming, demanding, empty page. I’ve got a “golden oldies” station on the radio seems appropriate Roy Orbison singing “Only the Lonely.” Great. Thanks, Roy. I have nothing left. There’s nothing there. I can’t go on…

I’m trying to write because I’m awake, because I had one of the bad dreams and I can’t get back to sleep. One more time.

Groucho said, “I’ve got insomnia, but I’m trying to sleep it off.” I’m at war with my own body. Battling the MS and its side effects. With each new hospital visit, with each new “procedure” or exam I have to face, I try to “psych” myself up by trying to imagine it as a ball game or race. It works great right up until the second I walk in the door and smell that “hospital” smell, that first whiff of disinfectant and despair.

I’m at war with my dreams. Nightmares for 30 years: post-traumatic screamers, “monster-chasers,” lonely ache-ers, pain dreams from my MS. But the worst are the “roller-skating dreams.” I dream I’m roller skating around the lakes, the mega-mall, I never tire, I never fall, I can outrun sports cars. Then I suddenly wake up with a body that can’t make it to the bathroom without a stick or a walker to lean on. Scarier than Steven King. I can’t go on…

James Brown, the “Hardest Workin’ Man in Show Business,” is singing, ‘I feeeeeel nice. Sugar ‘n spice!’ Yeah, right, James. I’m 46 years old, and I’ve come to the realization that the most terrible thing that can happen to a guy has happened to me: I’ve become invisible to teenage girls. Time, depression, gravity, and life have all conspired to make me middle-aged and I’m not prepared. I’m prepared for 22. Right now I could do a great 22. I’m sitting here this morning and all of a sudden I’m not young. Not old, but all of a sudden not young. Time isn’t a thief, like they say. It’s an embezzler, up nights, juggling the books so you don’t know it’s gone. Until all of a sudden. I can’t go on…

I’m at war with my own soul. My old buddy, the “Inner Tyrant,” is hanging around, kicking my shins. And here I am sharing with total strangers the worst of me, the “oh, woe is me” secrets and shame that we are all supposed to keep hidden in our deepest heart, the words we can only whisper down a well at midnight. One consumer told me that she thought I had become a “professional mentally ill person.” That she was ashamed of me, that I should do what she and “all the other mentally ill people do: keep private things private.” I can’t go on…

I recently heard from a consumer who told me that I had “sold my soul” and was “damned and would go to hell” because I “work with police forces, who are shooting us; work with churches, who have denied and abandoned us; work with NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, who are ‘in bed’ with the drug companies who are conspiring to keep us sick.” I recently heard that a few members of the Minnesota State board of NAMI have said that I had “sold my soul” because I believed in working co-operatively with the Mental Health Association and other organizations with whom they disagreed. That they would never forgive me for publicly “stirring up trouble” and organizing the NAMI affiliates around the state to confront them on why two executive directors, the president of the board, and four board members have all left in frustration and anger in less than a year. I can’t go on…

Sun’s up. Another working day. The phone will start ringing in earnest around 8 a.m. and because I don’t have a staff or office or budget, I answer them all. Well, not all. Sometimes not even some. Sometimes not any. Exhaustion and time have made me do a kind of triage, taking the most important, and putting the rest back to secondary status. The personal touch and connections I used to be able to maintain have disappeared in 25 calls a day and 50+ speaking engagements a month. ‘Man, has He changed! Too big an ego to even call us back!’ I can’t go on…

What’s on the agenda? Besides the “incoming,” I have my own calls to make. Putting together day-long workshops for Birmingham, Atlanta and Chattanooga, and I’m running the schedule past the folks down South today. A lot of stigma to break in Alabama. I’m finishing off the press releases for some week-long speaking engagements in Cloquet, Brainerd and Bemidji, and meeting with a psychiatrist to go over details for the eight police trainings we’re doing in September. A lot of stigma to break in Minnesota. I’m speaking this afternoon to a class of social workers at St. Thomas. Try to give them a sense of what MI is like from a personal point of view. Maybe fire them up about focusing on mental health as a career. I’m having coffee with a guy who’s trying to get his life back together after hitting bottom and has asked for my help. Yeah.

And right now there’s this guy out the window working in his yard and this woman across the street who always chases her kid who always sprays their dog with the garden hose and they’re there every day like the sun. And I’m thinking isn’t it amazing how all of us can’t go on; isn’t it amazing how we all keep digging in the yard and spraying the dog with the garden hose and writing letters and getting new tabs for the car and making calls and we all can’t go on.

The phone’s ringing and “Blue Suede Shoes” is playing. ‘Well, it’s one for the money, Two for the show, Three to get ready, Now go cat, go…’ Yeah, sure. But go where, Elvis? Go where?

I can’t go on…

I’ll go on.

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